Reports of a fiery, fatal Tesla crash swept through Baton Rouge news a few days ago. There were apparently two men inside the electric vehicle, though neither was in the driver’s seat when the 2019 Model S veered off a road near Spring, Texas, hit a tree and burst into flames.
According to the reports, the Tesla’s Autopilot feature had been engaged before the violent wreck occurred. Firefighters battled a fierce blaze fueled by the electric vehicle’s batteries for hours.
Musk and then Consumer Reports respond
Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk responded on Twitter, casting doubt on the accuracy of the reports. He retweeted a post that stated that it was impossible for the driver’s seat to have been empty because Tesla’s Autopilot system checks for the presence of a driver by testing for weight in the driver’s seat and checking whether hands are on the steering wheel. The Autopilot system won’t engage if either test fails.
Earlier today, Consumer Reports announced it had tested a 2020 Tesla Model Y and found it could “easily” get the vehicle to operate on Autopilot, “even with no one in the driver’s seat.”
The nonprofit product-testing organization said it defeated the Autopilot system on its closed track. One of its engineers sat on top of the buckled seatbelt in the driver’s seat and engaged Autopilot while the car was moving. He then stopped the vehicle by setting the vehicle’s speed dial to 0.
He then slid into the passenger seat, put “a small weighted chain on the steering wheel to simulate the weight of a driver’s hand” and used the speed dial to put the vehicle back in motion on the track.
Not a peep
“The car drove up and down the half-mile lane of our track, repeatedly, never noting that no one was in the driver’s seat, never noting that there was no one touching the steering wheel, never noting there was no weight on the seat,” said the engineer.
Consumer Reports issued several stern warnings that no one should attempt to replicate their experiment, as it would cause “extreme danger” on public roads.
Nevertheless, the organization has exposed a real flaw in the Tesla automated driving system. The electric vehicle manufacturer did not respond to Consumer Reports’ requests for comment.